Clément Pit-Claudel

Resources for prospective students

I joined EPFL as an assistant professor in January 2023 to found the SYSTEMF lab (previously, I was at MIT and then AWS). If you're interested in being part of my group, please apply!

I'm generally interested in the intersection of systems and formal methods (especially compilers, hardware, and verification), as well as topics around programmer productivity, tools, visualizations, and user interfaces.

There's a brief summary of my current projects on my home page and a more detailed overview on the SYSTEMF research page.


Are you recruiting this year? (2025-2026)

Yes! I already have a wonderful team, but I'm open to recruiting one more student.

Do I need to speak French to study at EPFL?

No, not at all. Most of our PhD admits speak little or no French (same as, in fact, a sizeable fraction of our faculty). If you are hoping to pick up some French during your studies (which will help with daily life, even though most Swiss people speak English reasonably well), EPFL offers a wide range of free French classes.

How large is your group? How large will it get?

We're just getting started :). I'm planning to ramp up slowly (1-2 PhD students a year) to a reasonably small group (4-6 PhD students at most for the foreseeable future): this way I'll have all the time I need to support and collaborate closely with my first students. You can see our current and past team members on the SYSTEMF people page.

What criteria do you prioritize in selecting students?

Motivation, technical chops, collegiality, and fit with my group's research interests. I want to be confident that we'll both be happy to work together for ~5 years, so on your side I'm looking for evidence that you have skills and interests that match my group's research, and on my side I'm trying to ensure that EPFL will offer everything you'll need to develop to your very best (this includes my personal expertise and background, but also a sufficient mass of other faculty and students working on related topics to provide an exciting and stimulating environment).

I'm passionate about teaching and education (and EPFL profs care a lot about good teaching in general), so teaching experience or interest is a plus; and my group seeks to build real systems, so strong programming skills are a big plus as well.

Previous research experience helps, but it's not stricly necessary — you're doing a PhD to learn.

Do I need to know which specific problem I want to work on?

No, but you need to know what you're interested in. Part of the PhD is developing your research tastes and your ability to pick interesting problems to work on, so don't feel that you have to know exactly what problem you want to work on before you start. What you do need is to be passionate enough about a broad area / class of problems to spend 4-6 years working on that.

What is it like to do a PhD at EPFL/in Switzerland/in Europe?

See this blog post by my colleague Mathias Payer for a general overview, and this comprehensive presentation from EPFL's CS department (EDIC) for details about doing a PhD at EPFL.

Students are employees and have 5 weeks of paid vacation a year plus holidays, and hiking, biking, sailing, and winter sports are all extremely popular on the weekends. (In general, Switzerland is one of the top places in the world for work-life balance and life satisfaction, and EPFL follows suit.) Additionally, EPFL and the Swiss NSF have comprehensive provisions and financial support for post docs and grad students with children.

There's excellent public transit around Lausanne, so it's less common to own a car around here than in most US cities: Lausanne has two subway lines, and it sits on a train network that takes you mountain hiking in 20 to 40 minutes (or 1h to the top by cograil!) and gets you to Geneva (the closest international airport) in 40 minutes, to Zurich in 2 hours, to Lyon in 2 hours and a half, to Milan in 3 hours and a half, and to Paris in just 3 hours, 40 minutes.

Overall, Europe is a great place — there's a reason I came back!

Is living in Switzerland expensive?

Yes: the cost of living in Lausanne is roughly comparable to cities like Boston, San Francisco, London, or Paris (e.g. compare MIT's estimated living expenses and living wage estimates with a typical budget at EPFL). Fortunately, the high PhD salaries at EPFL (55-60kUSD/y) are more than enough to live comfortably.

How much will I have to worry about funding?

Typically, not at all. EPFL gives professors guaranteed base funding covering 2 to 4 students, so when grants don't go through there's always a backup. In exchange, EPFL doctoral students are expected to help with teaching most semesters, though at a much lower commitment level (20%) than a typical North American TA position (about 1 day a week vs 2 - 3 days in the US).

Who else could I work with at EPFL? Can I be co-advised?

EPFL is full of incredible people — we have a large CS department (~300 PhD candidates, 90% international) with plenty of great faculty and students working on systems, programming languages, and formal methods. Co-advising is relatively common. Check out the following professors and their labs and students, in no particular order: Viktor Kunčak, Thomas Bourgeat, Martin Odersky, George Candea, Jim Larus, Bryan Ford, Katerina Argyraki, Mathias Payer, Sanidhya Kashyap, Christoph Koch, Ed Bugnion; see also the per-domain pages for PL and systems, and the Systems @ EPFL website.

I really want to move to Europe / stay in Europe for my PhD. I will apply to EPFL, but where else should I consider?

You have lots of great options.

  • In Switzerland, ETH is EPFL's sister institution and also a top option; if you're interested in my work, have a look at what Peter Müller and Markus Püschel are doing.
  • In France, PhDs are a bit shorter (~3 years) and more focused on a specific topic, with (typically) no teaching requirements. Labs are organized a bit differently (with more professors and fewer students), and most labs are not attached to a specific university (so searching for open positions can be a bit trickier). Look for PhD position announcements on field-relevant mailing lists, and ask your professors for recommendations.
  • Germany's Max-Plank institutes (MPI) are great; the system there is a bit different from the US as well, but if you like what I do you should enjoy most of the PL work at SWS.
  • There's a strong tradition of functional programming and type theory in Denmark (e.g. Bas Spitters and Amin Timany in the LOGSEM group at Aarhus) and Sweden (especially at Chalmers, also at KTH). Both countries rank high on quality-of-life metrics.
  • I don't have much experience with PhDs in the UK, but folks at Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College, and Edinburgh consistently produce top-notch research in areas I'm interested in.
  • Other places that I'm less familiar with but produce great research include IMDEA in Spain, IST Austria, and TU Munich. Ask your professors and mentors for advice!

How do I apply to join EPFL?

The process is basically the same as US universities, except we have two deadlines: December 15th and April 15th. This page has all the info.

EPFL typically recruits PhD students after they complete a master's degree. For students coming in with a 4-year BS we also have a direct-doctorate program (and an excellent master's program, if you're not feeling ready to start a PhD). Refer to this page for details.

How do I apply to join your group at EPFL?

EPFL PhD admissions are centralized, so you need to apply to the EDIC PhD program (mention me as a potential research advisor in your statement). Bonus point if one of your professors or mentors can send me an email to introduce you.

Do you take interns?

Yes. For summer internships, please apply to the Summer@EPFL program. Otherwise, please send me a CV. Put “EPFL Internship” in the subject, and tell me what work you're interested in and what research you've done in the past, if any. Ideally, have one of your professors or mentors also send me an email to introduce you.

You haven't replied to my email!

Please wait two weeks, then resend it (once).

Research projects

I keep a complete list of research interests and projects on my lab's research page.